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Music Review: Tom Waits – Rain Dogs

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Above all Tom Waits is a supplier of murky tales. He transmits chronicles about shady peg-legged characters, misunderstood goons and all types of peripheral creatures that congregate in alley ways of the underworld. Some contend Waits to romanticize the strange which he does. Like any true artist, he spills his core and with Rain Dogs his outcast sensibility seeps into the album's myth and sound.

That rusted growl, so integral to Waits, is just part of the noise that works in this record's tone. When the mode of the times was heaving synthesizers and drum machines, the 1985 Rain Dogs album was more experimental. The slithering music was fed by use of the marimba, accordion, trombone and as Waits said in an interview: "hitting the bathroom door with a piece of two-by-four very hard."

Continuing to discuss his methods for recording, he added: "If I want a sound, I usually feel better if I've chased it and killed it, skinned it and cooked it." With such extremity, Waits is one of the rare breeds that has stuck to his view of the world. He never compromised his vision and has become something of a legendary icon like the people he sings about. Like the Johnny Depp of the music scene – calling his own shots, staying bizarre to the bone – he has garnered attention by not quieting the artist within.

That vision of the subversive musician is infused in the nineteen-song Rain Dogs track list, a few of which stand as the best he concocted yet. The high caliber record mostly has eclectic songs. The carnival twirl of "Singapore" opens the album like a Jack-in-the-Box before the mournful ballad "Time," which uses the accordion like tears of an existential landscape. The psychedelic Dr. John style of "Clap Hands" is grimy but gets redeemed by the romantic, "Downtown Train" featuring an emotional guitar riff by G.E. Smith.

With help from Keith Richards on "Union Square," Waits continues the versatility with rock n roll blues. And joining writing forces with his wife, Kathleen Brennan on "Hang Down Your Head," he gets more expressive and moving. The whole album rolls on this type of wide-ranging railroad that roams around and finds alley cats in the windows of gangland — misfits that rule his world of sound and story.

These chronicles, after all, come from an iconoclast that gained an extremely loyal fan base. With all Waits has accomplished in his illustrious music career, Rain Dogs could be his magnum opus though. It combines elements of lounge act piano, polka numbers and bluesy songs that twist around a fiery poetic ball. Fit for an American who hangs around the edge, these melodies are meaningful. They say "don't settle for anything– unless it's weird."

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  • kelly

    I Have to agree Through his deep gritty words you can find truth and beauty in the darkest of times. He brings us all together by reminding us we all suffer , but that doesn’t mean we can’t find humor in it.

  • One of my favourite albums. Nice review!

  • JANK

    Yes yes yes. Thanks for mentioning my all-time fav Waits Song, Singapore. The imagery and phrasing he uses is sublime and unsurpassed. Until of course you get to Downtown Train! Wow.

  • very, very nice. anybody who writes about Waits is ok in my book.

  • That’s a good, enjoyable read on a classic Waits record. Welcome aboard Henrick!